A computer program will always do what you tell it to do, but rarely what you want it to do.

Designing For Dyslexics

Filed under: Accessibility

When discussing accessible web design, one of the topics that rarely seems to be covered is that of designing with dyslexics in mind. Over the past few months, I’ve come to realise that one of the reasons for this is that many web designers know very little about dyslexia itself. They’re aware that it is a problem with regard to reading but little more.

So, I’ve written a short series of articles on the subject for accessites.org summarising some of the common elements of the condition, the specific problems introduced by high contrast web pages and a short summary of the other issues that affect page readability.

I’m hoping these articles will provoke some discussion here.

Published: October 16th 2006


  1. Mike Cherim

    Outstanding article, Mel. It offered me a lot of information I hadn’t realized. Looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

  2. ThePickards » standards, accessibility, and ranting and general stuff by the web chemist » Blog Archive » Dyslexia, Disability and teaching Accessibility

    [...] This is a perfectly sound and logical reason when you think about it, it just wasn’t something that had ever occurred to me before. Incidentally, if you read this article in full and have any comments on it, you’re welcome to post them on Mel’s blog. [...]

  3. Peter Mescalchin

    Mel, just to echo Mike’s comments – excellent article, very well written and presented. Its certainly a topic that I would love to have a better understanding and then cater for. With all the hours I personally spend in front of the PC reading, I can’t imagine what I would be like and the frustrations experienced by someone suffering from a form of dyslexia.

  4. Ryechi

    Very informative article. I always thought that dyslexics are for ‘written word impaired’ people only. The effect on web designing might be minimal but still has to be taken care about.

  5. Robert Wellock

    I know what it’s like firsthand being dyslexic though I rarely find reading an issue. So I’ll be patiently waiting for the subsequent parts.

  6. Black Widow

    Only two out of the five dyslexics I know personally have significant reading problems. The other three, although reluctant readers, have specific problems with writing and spelling.

    I think this is where some of the confusion can arise when trying to define dyslexics as a group. Because the severity and nature of the difficulties varies from one individual to another, it’s very easy to develop a slightly skewed impression of what is, or isn’t, a problem for the group as a whole.

    When designing pages, I do think we have to consider those who do have reading problems (who could be classed as the most severely affected) but I also think we have to keep any design changes relatively subtle so as not to negatively impact on other users. As always, I think it comes down to trying to achieve a reasonable balance.

    My own personal feeling is that, because visually impaired users have been early adopters of assistive technology and have, very successfully, highlighted the problems that they face, the balance within accessible web design has become somewhat skewed in their direction. This, unfortunately, creates even more problems for many dyslexic users. If we can raise awareness of the issues that dyslexics face generally, we might be able to re-adjust that balance somewhat – hopefully without creating problems elsewhwere.

  7. Crossed Browser » Blog Archive » Designing for Dyslexics

    [...] This article about accessibility for dyslexic people is something I’ve wanted to see for some time. There’s a lot of attention given to users who have visual impairments – see my thoughts on Google’s “Accessible search” – and I am finding that as people become more aware of accessibility, the first question they ask has something to do with screen readers. [...]

  8. Adam Osborne

    Nice Article Mel. I’ve always needed to know a little bit more about dyslexics and the web. A friend of mine is dyslexic and he never really explained his difficulties in using the web, just that sometimes some sites make absolutely no sense to him. Looking forward to the next 2 parts.

  9. Sainkho

    Yep, thanks for an interesting read. I’m curious, could someone provide a link to a site that positions its form labels off screen, please?

  10. Black Widow

    I don’t know of any specific site that has already implemented offscreen positioning of labels. However, I have seen it being suggested with enough frequency in design forums over the past few months for it to concern me.

    I’m pretty sure that the odd offscreen label won’t cause any major issues but two or more ‘hidden’ in this manner could.

    If you want to have a look at offscreen positioning in general, have a look at the skip links on Accessites.